Monday, October 06, 2014

On political calculations

I haven't seen anybody else question the most self-congratulatory aspect of Stephen Harper's position on a new Iraq war, and at least a few commentators seem to have been willing to swallow it whole. So let's address the question of which leader has the most obvious political reason to position himself the way he has:
I urge all Members to consider and support the motion we have presented. I do this, Mr. Speaker, in recognizing that, in a democracy, especially one approaching an election…there is rarely political upside in supporting any kind of military action, and little political risk in opposing it.
Of course, for an opposition leader, Harper is right to recognize that there's little upside in falling in line behind a government call to arms. But for the government, the calculations are rather different: instead, one might make the argument that based on past performance, any PM seeking re-election should be giddy about the prospect of both a bump in personal support, and the ability to label opposition parties as unpatriotic for disagreeing on any issue.

Which means that some war - any war - can easily be seen as Stephen Harper's best chance of shaking up a political scene which had turned against him in order to create some hope of appealing to somebody beyond his rapidly-shrinking base.

But what about the long-term political dangers of owning the war for himself? Well, those would never really materialize to the extent Harper could strong-arm other parties into co-owning the war. And even then, the choice to limit Canadian involvement to air strikes makes any bloodshed unlikely in the time leading up to the next federal election.

So the Cons' chosen level and type of involvement in the new Iraq war makes a world of political sense, allowing Harper to start up the jingoism with minimal risk of losses. But by the same token, it looks rather less logical to the extent anybody actually feared that ISIS was the existential threat Harper claims it to be. 

Now, one can fairly make the point that the other parties' choices are also consistent with rational political positioning. But a leader as hyperpartisan as Harper - whose party has the most to gain from pushing military action of any kind, and the most to lose from not forcing the issue - should hardly be taken seriously when he claims that political upside isn't at the centre of his own choices.

1 comment:

  1. I believe your initial statement is true if referring to the mainstream media, but certainly not the blogosphere. While there is a base that is buying the patriotism and fear campaign (hook, line and sinker), many have commented on the fact that the Cons' accusations are of others using the Cons' modus operandi. The Conservatives have gorged themselves for years on a daily staple of partisanship. Who would believe they would change their stripes now.

    My fear is that there are far too many buying this rubbish, as the mainstream media no longer challenges these types of hypocrisies.

    I do believe your post is 'spot on'. I enjoyed reading it, and thank you for airing your voice.